Early in 2012, on a bus ride in the Mekong Delta, I listened to a radio podcast that significantly influenced my travel plans. It was an interview with Meira Chand, a novelist who writes fiction about “cracks between cultures.” Chand was born in London to Swiss-Indian parents and had subsequently lived in Bombay and Japan, for 5 and 30 years respectively. She most recently settled in Singapore, a place she described as a multicultural city-state. Singapore was not on my Southeast Asia itinerary but after hearing this discussion I decided to check it out.
The person conducting the interview was Eleanor Wachtel, who for almost 25 years has been having “conversations” with writers from around the world. Every Sunday one of them airs on CBC Radio. I always download them as podcasts (it’s free) and listen to them whenever the mood strikes.
Eleanor interviewed Meira Chand and other authors while at the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka. This included a panel of Sri Lankan writers of mixed background (Ashok Ferrey, Ameena Hussein and Vivimarie VanderPoorten) who talked about life in the country that had gone through a civil war and tsunami. In a blog about the trip, Eleanor says that ever since she read Michael Ondaatje’s family history, Running in the Family, she had wanted to visit Sri Lanka. For me, it was these interviews that tipped the scale and I made the journey in 2013.
A more recent and equally fascinating series was on “Brazil Inside Out”. Eleanor spoke with Bernardo Carvalho about Brazil’s indigenous peoples and with Estrela D’Alva on the hip-hop culture of the favelas. There had to be a conversation about soccer, of course, and that was with Sergio Rodrigues who made the connection between the sport and Brazil’s political history.
Broadcasts are occasionally repeated and called “encores”. Such as those with South African writer Nadine Gordimer after she died (South Africa immediately went on my bucket list) and those with Alice Munro when she won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I subsequently shared photos I had taken of Munro’s home and literary garden with Taiwan’s Chinese Literature Magazine UNITAS for a special issue they were doing on Alice Munro and the short story, and they kindly sent me a printed copy.
These CBC podcasts make travel experiences much richer. They connect us, as does this website, which had visitors from 99 countries over the past month alone (Google Analytics). Many of those visitors were from Canada, United States, Great Britain and Australia but there were lots from India, Sri Lanka and Spain too.
Many of Eleanor’s conversations make you feel good about people, such as the one she had with Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard about his memoir “My Struggle”. I listened to that while seated on a bench in Sri Lanka’s Botanical Gardens. Or the hysterically funny one she did with Ruth Reichi, the American “queen” of food writing. So memorable.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s slogan is “Stay connected with CBC radio”.
Image: Wiki Commons